Best of Baja Road Trip
The road may be paved now and fuel much easier to come by than in the early days of peninsular travel, but Baja California remains a classic route for travelers who enjoy the thrill of a long road trip. All you need is ample time, a reliable vehicle, and an ability to cope with unpredictable situations.
This itinerary follows Mexico 1 from the border crossing in Tecate to the Los Cabos tourist corridor at the southern tip of the peninsula, 1,600 kilometers away, with a few options for side trips and off-highway scenic drives along the way.
Cross the U.S.-Mexico border at Tecate early in the day and pick up some pan dulce at El Mejor Pan de Tecate or tour the Tecate brewery before you head southwest along Mexico 3. Visit a couple of wineries in the Valle de Guadalupe on the way to Ensenada. Explore the downtown promenade, order fish tacos of the Mercado de Mariscos, and spend the night at one of the modest hotels in town.
Head south on Mexico 1 and take the turnoff to La Bufadora to watch seawater explode out of a blowhole in the rocks. Return to the highway and head south toward San Quintín. At low tide, dig for clams along Playa Santa María. Then continue on to El Rosario and book a room at the Baja Cactus Motel. Try the famous lobster roll at Mama Espinoza’s. If you’re in a hurry to reach destinations farther south and have the stamina for a long day of driving, you can skip some of these northern attractions and overnight at Guerrero Negro instead.
Buy fresh tortillas and stock up on water and groceries in El Rosario. Then prepare to make the four-hour trip across the desert. A wonderland of cacti—some of them 13 meters tall and hundreds of years old—extends from highway to horizon in all directions. Giant boulder piles, roadside shrines, and jagged peaks of the Sierra de la Asamblea complete the picture. Fill up on gas in Cataviña if the station is open, and stay overnight if daylight is waning; otherwise, continue to Guerrero Negro.
Walk along the salt flats in the morning, and if it’s winter, consider a half-day trip to Laguna Ojo de Liebre to encounter pairs of newborn gray whales and their mothers. A 145-kilometer drive from Guerrero Negro leads to the palm oasis of San Ignacio. Tour the historic mission, arrange a guided trip to nearby cave paintings, or in winter head west to Laguna San Ignacio to see the gray whales.
Today’s journey brings the first glimpse of the Sea of Cortez as you descend into the historic silver mining town of Santa Rosalía (74 km from San Ignacio). Walk the busy streets, visit the hilltop museum, and note the French influence that lingers from its days as a company town. In the afternoon, follow Mexico 1 to Mulegé, 134 kilometers farther south. Spend a couple nights at a bed-and-breakfast along the river, or camp on a beach along Bahía Concepción. Spend the next two days wandering the town; book a day of diving through Cortez Explorers; snorkel the beaches along Bahía Concepción; or arrange a guided tour of the nearby cave paintings.
Pack up for the 135-kilometer (2.5-hr.) drive south to Loreto. Settle in for a few days to enjoy the opportunities for outdoor recreation in the national marine park. Stroll around the plaza, tour the small museum, and enjoy fresh seafood in open-air restaurants.
SIDE TRIP: Visit one of the best-preserved Jesuit missions on the peninsula in the tiny village of San Javier, a 36-kilometer drive southwest of Loreto.
This is a travel day to La Paz, 367 kilometers south on Mexico 1. Allow six hours for the trip, including a brief stop for gas and food in the agricultural supply center of Ciudad Constitución. Book a room near the malecón in La Paz and head out by foot in time to catch the sunset.
SIDE TRIP: During whale-watching season (Nov.–Mar.), Puerto San Carlos on Bahía Magdalena is worth a side trip west from Ciudad Insurgentes (57 km).
Spend at least one day at the beach or in the water. Explore the pristine beaches along Bahía de La Paz, finishing the day at breezy Playa El Tecolote, 30 minutes from downtown. Or book a day of diving or kayaking and snorkeling at Isla Espíritu Santo.
Shop for souvenirs, supplies, and gifts in the morning; then stock up on groceries and prepare to begin the loop around the southernmost part of Baja. Next up: the East Cape. It’s a 90-minute drive through the mountains and mining-turned-farming towns of El Triunfo, San Antonio, and San Bartolo. Los Barriles has several modest hotels, RV campgrounds, a kiteboarding/windsurfing camp, and some private vacation rentals; a half-hour farther south, Cabo Pulmo has more primitive lodging in solar-powered casitas and three dive operators. In between are a handful of fishing lodges and private vacation rentals.
SIDE TRIP: During the windy season (Nov.–Mar.), add one day of travel and drive 40 kilometers southeast from La Paz along BCS 286 to Bahía de La Ventana and the neighboring villages of La Ventana and El Sargento. Watch the colorful sails of kiteboarders and windsurfers gliding through the chop; or pile into a panga for a day of diving at Isla Cerralvo across the channel. Return to Mexico 1 via the newly paved road that connects San Juan de los Planes to San Antonio.
Spend today playing on, in, or near the Sea of Cortez; then continue the cape loop to the southernmost tip of the peninsula. Prepare for culture shock as you enter the scenic Los Cabos Corridor. After two weeks of relative isolation, the mega-resorts and developed tourist infrastructure of San José del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas may come as a surprise. Wander the streets surrounding the plaza and Boulevard Mijares to get a feel for San José del Cabo. Browse the galleries and splurge on a late lunch or early dinner in the Historic Art District. Continue along the Transpeninsular Highway to Cabo San Lucas if you’re in the mood for late-night entertainment.
Snorkel at Playa Chileno or Playa Santa María on the Corridor. Book a massage at one of the five-star resorts if the mood strikes and budget allows. Tour the marina and downtown area of Cabo San Lucas, and take a water taxi to Playa del Amor and El Arco at Land’s End. Stay the night to enjoy the lively bar and disco scene around town.
Now it’s time to point the GPS north and explore the West Cape and Todos Santos. Follow Mexico 19 out of Cabo San Lucas. Look for surf, or just have a picnic at one of the rugged beaches west of the highway. Continue north to Km. 64 and Playa Los Cerritos. Swim, boogie board, or surf at one of the only sheltered beaches along the West Cape. Then make your way to accommodations on the beach in El Pescadero (Km. 62) or in the town of Todos Santos a few kilometers farther north.
Head northwest across the huerta to el otro lado, the other side of Todos Santos, where you can catch waves, cast a fishing line in the surf, or simply stroll the beach at Playa La Pastora. In winter, watch for flying mantas and whales breaching just offshore. Around 3 P.M., drive south to Punta Lobos to watch local fishermen unload their fresh catch, and buy some dorado (mahimahi) or huachinango (red snapper) for dinner.
Complete the cape loop along Mexico 19 by returning to La Paz, where you’ll pick up Mexico 1 again. Now it’s time to begin retracing your steps, filling in any missed sights or optional side trips along the way. Spend the first night in Loreto after a seven-hour drive, and the next in San Ignacio (5 hrs.) or Guerrero Negro (7 hrs.).
Follow Mexico 1 north to the last military checkpoint at Maneadero. At El Sauzal, north of Ensenada, choose between the toll road north to Tijuana or Mexico 3, which heads northeast to Tecate (105 km). Savor one last meal of tacos and cerveza. Then cross the border and leave Baja behind, for now.
© Nikki Goth Itoi from Moon Baja, 9th Edition